Tomorrow the National Association of Black Journalists holds its annual convention/group therapy session in Minneapolis. I will not be there. I attended my last NABJ convention in 2011 and didn’t renew my membership in 2013.
Last week, one man who was one of my greatest inspirations as well as someone who did a lot to convince me journalism was truly my calling in life was laid to rest. His name was Amos H. Lynch and he was the undisputed Godfather of Black Journalism in Columbus, Ohio.
A few of the attendees will know why and how he earned that title. Most won’t, but such is the state of the business today. Yesterday’s icons are as swiftly forgotten as yesterday’s news, if they were ever known at all.
Long before I became a blogger I was a journalist and I still think like one. Blogging is for most the work of a soloist. Journalism means you’re part of a band and everyone has to play their part.
Journalism is a collaboration and if you can’t work as part of a team, you’re not going to be much good at it. Particularly not if you are working for a newspaper. In 1999, I walked away from the security of a state job for an opportunity to pursue my life’s calling after Mr. Lynch, the publisher of the Columbus Post. The former editor-in-chief of the Call & Post had left that paper to start one of his own and before too long the city had a new press war going on but since it was happening between the Black-oriented papers, the mainstream media mostly ignored it.
They couldn’t ignore Mr. Lynch though. I’d go into his office and he would be working the phone. Calling up community leaders, prodding politicians to take out a larger ad, placating a ruffled reader and otherwise being extremely busy supporting his favorite causes, dogging out his rivals, promoting events such as the annual MLK Breakfast, and being the Presence that made the big boys in Downtown Cowtown take his calls when he was on the line.
You don’t disrespect The Godfather.
Nothing about Mr. Lynch (as I referred to him then and now) reminded me of Don Corleone except they were both men who commanded respect based on their reputation. He could be kind and gentle, but Mr. Lynch had his stern, no-nonsense side when it came to The Columbus Post. At the Call and Post, he worked for someone else. Now he was running his paper and he wouldn’t hesitate to tell a reporter or contributor who hadn’t delivered what he wanted where they had fallen short.
I came to the Post after Mr. Lynch had broken away from his old publication to start his own weekly newspaper. Leaving the stability of a steady paycheck with the state for a struggling start-up paper that had problems making payroll and never got much support from advertisers was a risky proposition, but it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. I was hired as a reporter and I left as the editor-in-chief. I worked hard and spent many a Tuesday night going into the wee hours of Wednesday morning putting the next edition together.
Becoming the editor was never something I aspired to. I wanted to be a reporter and go after the news than stay in the office and make sure the right news went into the right places. I killed off long-running columns and beats and opened up the opinion page to voices I felt were missing from the paper. I went after gay and lesbians, conservatives and others in the Black community the Post had shut out and ignored. This caused Mr. Lynch some heartburn such as the time when a radical lesbian wrote a column and some of the ministers got their nose out of joint. He called me into his office and said, “Winbush, you can’t have that woman on the opinion page again.”
I protested a bit, but I didn’t go to war over it. After all, It was his paper, While he let me run it pretty much the way I wanted there was only so much change he was going to go for.
Without my time at the Post I would not have formed friendships that endure to this day. Charles Farmer was my closest ally at the paper and though he covered the sports desk he could have handled any beat you gave him. Someone at ESPN, Sports Illustrated or USA Today should have snatched him up a long time ago but that’s a common theme to working in the Black press. The talent pool is deep and wide. Kim Tolley, was a rival reporter at the C&P, but to this day is one of the smartest and most dedicated reporters I’ve ever met. We both kept a watchful eye on what the other were doing at the two weeklies. We would scoop them and then they would scoop us. There were no losers as the competition only made both papers better.
The connecting thread between almost all the Black press in Columbus is if you didn’t work for Amos Lynch you knew who he was and you knew what he had done. Among those celebrating his life is Wil Haygood, former Washington Post reporter and author of several books The Butler: A Witness to History which was adapted into the film The Butler, told the Columbus Dispatch, “I recall having to rewrite stories to get them up to speed, but it was the first job that I had where I was paid to write, so I will always look back upon my time under his tutelage as being very important.”
I know what Haygood means because I feel the same way. Mr. Lynch was a giant of journalism, a crusader for civil rights and social justice, and simply a gentleman. It was a privilege to have known and worked for Mr. Lynch. He was the Godfather of Black Media and we will never, ever see his kind again. I hope they take a few minutes at the NABJ convention to mention the man’s name.